SENDAI, Japan — While streams of devastating images of suffering along the Japanese coast continue to touch many Americans following the 9.0 earthquake and resulting tsunami, the devastation hit much closer to home for members of Japanese International Baptist Church in Tigard, Ore. With friendships and family relations stretching across the Pacific Ocean, church members freely gave of their time, money and resources to ease the crushing needs.
The church came together in the weeks following the tragedy to raise funds and gather many needed items to be taken to Japan by a four-member team from Japanese International.
Team heads to Japan
The team departed for Japan on April 8, returning April 22. Church members raised more than $10,000 by selling baked goods and other items, while many companies offered services and donated one ton of merchandise that was shipped at no cost to the church.
“We had children from our church going door to door in fundraising efforts,” said Kenji Yokoy, English speaking pastor at Japanese International and team leader for the mission trip. “People were bringing in practical items like shovels, water, food, first-aid supplies, clothes, blankets, safety masks and other items we will give out along the way that will begin the process of restoration.”
The team made their way to Sendai, Japan after landing in Tokyo, while a Japanese pastor in the affected region arranged for a truck to haul the items into the area affected by radiation from a damaged nuclear plant. Japanese International team members were charged with the responsibility of putting the donated funds to the best use upon arrival in Japan. “After we arrived and were on the highway, it felt like the car was being jerked from side to side,” Yokoy said. “I thought that the driver was joking, so I told the driver to stop it, but he said that he wasn’t doing it. It turns out it was actually because of earthquake aftershocks that happened at that time. As a result, the road was closed and we had to get off the highway.”
Yokoy, a graduate of the Pacific Northwest Campus of Golden Gate Seminary, was also joined by Mitch Yokoi, another GGBTS graduate who was working in Japan when the earthquake occurred, after the team landed in Japan.
“All the proceeds of our fundraising efforts will go to help people in Japan,” Yokoy said. “None of the money is for our travel expenses or administration. We had many people who wanted to go, including some women, but conditions are so rough we just took a team of men, because of the cramped quarters, lack of water and primitive sanitary conditions.”
Yokoy was able to secure a geiger counter prior to leaving the United States to monitor the radiation level the team may encounter and also received iodine medications to take along in case of exposure.
“Our connection in Japan is Pastor Shiogama Otomo, who leads a living and vibrant congregation in spite of the devastation,” Yokoy said. “We purchased a portable generator, but the needs are changing rapidly, so we are prepared to be flexible. We have been working on cleaning up mud and sand from the roads and ditches. We have worked with missionaries from Korea, China and other students. All of us have totally different backgrounds, ages and genders. Yet, despite the fact that there was no actual leader, the work went so smoothly because each person worked on his/her role, accomplishing the task in front of them.”
The team found they were not the only small group that had come to work. Prior to their arrival, they wondered what kind of help they could offer, as they were not specialists in any given area, but have found the greatest long term need is for people to clean up residue after the city uses heavy equipment to clear away debris.
“This is not to say that people should just show up by themselves, but we are finding that the best way to help the community is to cooperate with local churches who are already working in the community.” Yokoy noted. “Shiogama Bible Baptist Church is planning to remodel the house next door to the church building as a base for the long-term recovery effort, so they can accommodate volunteers who come to help the community. The church can’t have its normal gatherings right now because volunteers are staying in the bulk of their facility.
“As we distribute them, we are telling people how that money has been donated by the people in America,” Yokoy noted. “This story has actually been very encouraging to the people who are suffering in the aftermath of the March 11 earthquake and subsequent tsunami. We are just a bunch of normal guys, but we really think that we have been able to fulfill our role, given by God because we have so much prayer and support.”
Japanese International Baptist Church hopes to be a liaison for other groups who can be of assistance in Japan.
“Our number one objective is the gospel,” Yokoy said. “We hope to help others mobilize and connect to churches that are actively reaching their community.”
For more information, email [email protected] regarding giving assistance in Japan.
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